If you have ever wondered where, in this city of hipsters and hippies, are the WASPs, look no further. They're at the Presidio Social Club, a new(ish) restaurant in the beautifully renovated former officers' club in the Presidio. Enter the dining room and behold! You're at the country club. Men in blue button downs neatly tucked into pressed khakis, women wearing pearl earrings and headbands, blonde children still dressed in their school uniforms. Never in San Francisco have I seen so many East Coast-style WASPs in one place. It comes as no surprise that gin is featured prominently on the cocktail menu. While their affinity for gin is well documented (see Cheever, John), WASPs are not known for their culinary sense of adventure, and the dinner menu focuses on updated comfort food—a sloppy joe made from Kobe beef brisket, white cheddar mac and cheese, chicken pot pie on Tuesdays. The food at Presidio Social Club isn't bad. It's not especially great, either. The fried okra, a hard dish to pull off above the Mason-Dixon line, is perfect, but it feels a little exotic on a menu so fixated on American classics. The night I went we were running late for an event at the Palace of Fine Arts and so didn't get to try what looked like the best thing on the menu: cupcakes made to order, brought to your table with a side of frosting for you to apply yourself. The next time I feel the need to observe the endangered WASP in its restored native habitat, I'll go back to Presidio Social Club and try the cupcakes.
The T‑line may have brought Muni to a crashing halt, but it's done a lot for Dogpatch, and not just its real estate values. Restaurants, cafes, and garden stores have popped up along the Third Street corridor in anticipation of Muni-enabled consumers flocking to the neighborhood. Basing one's business plan on the viability of Muni moving anyone anywhere seems unwise. Basing one's business plan on serving thin crust pizza in a tiny space on an unlikely street corner, however, is a tried-and-true formula in San Francisco (see: Pizzetta 211). The aptly-named Piccino occupies such a corner at 22nd Street and Tennessee. Piccino is little. It has a small menu. It serves small plates of nibbles between lunch and dinner. In the morning you can find Blue Bottle coffee and fresh-baked pastries; at lunch pizza and panini take precedence; dinner (only on select nights) builds on the lunch menu. I haven't experienced breakfast and lunch, but at dinner recently I sampled three of the five pizzas on offer, plus dessert. By sampled I mean split with one other person. Like everything else at Piccino, the pizzas aren't big. Which isn't bad, because it means you can easily order three for two people and not feel too gluttonish or stuffed. The crust is right-on—a perfect combination of crisp and chewy. The toppings are a little less exciting. The night I was there, they had a margherita, napoletano, pepperone, bianco, and a special involving lemon zest and pine nuts. The tomato sauce on the pepperone was a little too acidic for me, and the bianco was a little bland. The real stand-out flavors were on the special, particularly the lemon zest. The pizza is good; we didn't leave any leftovers. Piccino is a great neighborhood restaurant. If I lived in Dogpatch, I would be their most loyal customer. Too bad I live in Cole Valley. This is the Golden Age of Pizza in the Bay Area. With the likes of Pizzette, Pizzeria Delfina, Little Star, and Pizzaiolo around, it's not enough to be good if you want to pull people in from out of the neighborhood. While I'm willing to brave the Bay Bridge for Pizzaiolo, or the Richmond fog for Pizzette, Piccino isn't quite compelling enough for the trek to Dogpatch.
Iceman's going for the hard-deck. Let's nail him, Goose! Attention: Everyone should turn, burn and check out Maverick, the little restaurant near the corner of 17th and Mission. Sure, it seems like it might be below your personal hard-deck; it looks a little too Blondie's, maybe a little too Limon. But believe me, any place that serves fresh peppers with a garnish of ancho chiles is a danger zone well worth taking a highway to, even if that highway isn't really a highway. Seriously: Call the ball. Order the steak. And the ribs. The stone fruit salad will be a bogey on your tail for days afterward. Where's MiG one? He's at Maverick. Affirmative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full. Because the pattern just ate at Maverick.
The Andante Dairy goat cheese pyramid is a little like that rare woodpecker in Arkansas that some people say they have seen and others say is extinct. If you can get up early enough, you might catch a fleeting glimpse of the pyramid at the Andante stand at the Ferry Plaza Saturday Farmers Market. I have been lucky enough to catch it twice; all other times I have either been too late (and I would argue that 9:00 a.m. shouldn't be considered late for a weekend morning unless you happen to have a baby in the house) or the person at the stand has denied all knowledge of even the existence of the pyramid. The pyramid is an aged goat cheese, firm and creamy, yet a little crumbly, the perfect consistency for eating on a cracker. The first time I bought one, I served it to dinner guests, ladies with petite appetites who only ate half of it and I spent a glorious week eating goat cheese pyramid on starr ridge crackers for dinner. The second time I bought one, I served it to dinner guests, ravenous gluttons who devoured the whole thing in the time it took me to prep a leg of lamb for the grill. My recommendation: put the pyramid on your life list while maintaining to others that it is only a myth.
Recently at a dinner party I met an eligible, attractive sort, not really my type but enticing nonetheless. Cowgirl Creamery's seasonal Pierce Pt. is a cheese perfect for a fling: it's creamy and complex, and it's only around for a short time so you don't have to worry about making a long-term commitment. It's a whole milk cheese bathed in moscato and rolled in dried herbs (something I often wish would happen to me); it shows up in fall and winter and is gone by spring, inspiring a gather-ye-cheese-rounds-while-ye-may approach when you find it on a cheese plate.
this is a pleasant little aged cow's milk cheese from a Northern California cheesemaker whose name I cannot recall. Rest assured, though, that if you're trying to eat as locally as possible, blondie's best can safely be on your grocery list. It's somewhat like an aged jack, or an aged hippie, with that kind of mellow nuttiness, cut with a little tang. It's good on a cracker but also works well in a salad with some dried cherries and toasted almonds.
with a wedge of appleby's cheshire in the house, one is always eating good in the neighborhood. It's a Neal's Yard cheese, and so far in San Francisco I've only found it at Whole Foods. There are other cheshires to be had in the city, and according to the grumpy proprietor of the cheese shop in my neighborhood Neal's Yard cheeses are overpriced, but to me Appleby's is the best tasting. It is the cheddar of my dreams. I know you shouldn't keep hard cheeses in the refrigerator, but I've always found that when left out, they take on a kind of oily sheen that I don't find very appetizing. The cheshire, on the other hand, gets better and better the longer it is left out. Fresh from the fridge it has a kind of firm but creamy texture; when left out it takes on a delectable crumbliness that intensifies the flavor. A piece of cheshire on a starr ridge cracker is a meal for kings. The only problem with leaving it out is that it can become a meal for dogs. Biscuit has to date swiped four blocks of cheshire carelessly left within swiping distance on the counter. She always does such a complete job, leaving nary a crumb, that I often don't realize until a day later. The dog is not known for her refined palate, but she makes an extra effort for the cheshire.
Quark (when it's not a subatomic particle) is a byproduct of curds and whey that results in what some describe as "a German-style cream cheese," others describe as "a cross between yogurt and cottage cheese," and still others describe as "yummy." This Saturday we bought some lemon quark at the Spring Hill Jersey Farm. This can best be described as tasting like the filling of a lemon cheesecake. You can eat it with a spoon, spread it on toast, or just use your finger to scoop out delicious lemony creamy pleasantly tangy milk fats in a semi-solid state. My friend Reed recalls that in Holland, they sell quark in something like yogurt-containers, and that there it is mostly like pudding. I like it best spread on toast and drizzled with some 420 Honey.
People insist on inventing new pronunciations for this word, god knows why. I bet you could find entire regions in which the predominant pronunciation of this word is kway-sa-dilya. "Can I get one kway-sa-dilya, and a side of ranch dressing, please?" To be sure, quesadilla is what linguists call a "loan" or "borrowed" word. In most cases, borrowings are modified so that they conform to the pronunciation rules of the new language, but there's something especially insulting about mispronouncing a word as seemingly widespread as quesadilla. I would feel way more sympathetic to someone who stumbles through "smoked trout nicoise salad with hearts of romaine and dijon viniagrette" than a word that is on the goddam Taco Bell menu. The truly mysterious thing is that the people who mispronounce "quesadilla" are inevitably people who look like they probably know the Taco Bell menu by heart. I can see why people are inclined to say "kweh-sa" or "kway-sa," because "qu" is "kwa" in words like "quiet" or "question." And I can understand why people of French-Canadian descent may be inclined to pronounce the "qu" as "ka" or "keh." I guess I can also understand saying "dilla" as "dilya" or "dillah" rather than "diya," but I'm relatively sure that these same people pronounce "tortilla" correctly. But maybe they don't. Maybe they say "tortilya." When you string all of the mispronunciations together, and you get things like kway-sa-dilya, or kah-sa-dillah, it just makes you sad for the state of civilization, for the future of language, for the likelihood that things that matter will be further eroded by people who simply don't pay attention. On the other hand, it's also a perfect example of people voting with their feet, or their mouths as the case may be. Which is interesting yet terrifying, as always.
Ahh, Amsterdam. Sometimes I wish there was a General Foods International Coffee flavor that would transport me back to those gauzy days on the banks of the Amstel — the cool fall breeze, the Nightwatch, the hazy coffeeshop afternoons. Actually, to faithfully recreate those simpler times, a single cup of coffee would have to knock me on my ass and erase my memory for a week. Furthermore, it would have to make me feel like I'd been lobotomized, and send my life into a terrible, slow-motion tailspin. It would also have to empty my bank account, force me to live on nan bread from the Indian restaurant next to my crappy London apartment. (If not for the kindness and infinitely tolerant understanding of Karla Betts, this era of my life would have been nothing more than a platter of cheese cubes drifting silently past me). While it can't faithfully recreate the Amsterdam experience of my vague recollection, there is a cheese which has a way of taking me back to a more ideal place. It's called Old Amsterdam. It's in the gouda family, and it has got a nice salty bite balanced with the requisite gouda creaminess. Does it lead me to spend 72 straight hours in the basement lounge of a hostel? No. But it tastes nice with crispy crackers, tomatoes, and olive oil, and it doesn't give me uncontrollable cravings for falafel that I can't afford.